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Malala Yousafasi addresses UN Assembly

[New York, 12 July] Malala Yousafasi, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban last year on a bus from school in her home in the Swat valley, has today addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly and called for improved global education, and access for girls the world over to education.

Malala, who first came to public attention at the age of 11 for speaking out against a ban on girls’ education, was shot in the neck and head by Taliban gunmen last October on her way home from school in Pakistan.

malala day

Malala, addressing UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and ex-UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown and special envoy for education, a UN General Assembly chamber full of 500 youth delegates from around the world, and a world wide audience on a global streaming link, pleaded with any listening world leaders to act on the promises made to provide universal primary education by the end of 2015. There are 57 million children and 69 million youth who do not have the opportunity or the chance to go to school. Education is a privilege but also a right, and most of the 57 million children who don’t have the right to go to school are girls.

International champion

She will also hand over a petition to Ban signed by more than 330,000 people calling on the 193 UN members to finance teachers, schools and books to meet the educational needs.

malala addressing un ga

“Malala day is not my day - today is the day of every woman, every boy, and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights; there are hundreds of human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for their rights, but struggling for their goal of peace and equality. Thousands of people have been injured and killed by the terrorists. I am just one of them... I am just one person, speaking for those who can’t ....for the right of equality of opportunity.”

“They thought that the bullet would silence us, but they failed, and out of that silence, came thousands of voices.”

From Taliban assassination threats and to emergency life saving surgery on the other side of the world, Malala has become the embodiment of the right to education.

"From the day that terrible shooting - assassination attempt - took place, Malala Yousafzai is a symbol for the rights of girls, and indeed the rights of all young people, to an education," said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Now, more girls are attending schools in the Swat Valley. But the UN estimates that 57 million children of primary school age do not get an education - half of them in countries at conflict, such as Syria.

According to Ban’s annual report on children and conflict, 115 schools were attacked last year in Mali, 321 in the occupied Palestinian territories, 167 in Afghanistan, and 165 in Yemen.

Malala and her family briefly left Swat during a government offensive on the Taliban-controlled territory.

On their return, they were threatened by armed groups before the attack on October 9 last year.

The family now lives in Birmingham, where Malala has undergone surgery and rehabilitation. In March, Malala joined pupils at Edgbaston High School for Girls in the neighbourhood.

She is one of the favourites to become the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate this year.

She has already been named as one of Time magazine’s most influential people in 2013 and has reportedly secured a $3m contract for a book on her life story.

“We realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realised the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The saying, the pen is mightier than the sword is true. The extremists were, and are, afraid of books. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. They are afraid of the voice of women. And that is why they killed 14 female students. That is why they are blasting schools every day. They are afraid of change and they are afraid of equality that we will bring everyday.”

“There was a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights, but this time, we will do it for ourselves. I’m not telling men to back away, but rather I’m telling women to be independent, to speak for themselves”.

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